Bindi's Dog Blog
In order to understand the intention of Bindi's Dog Blog, we first need to get to know Bindi. Bindi is a border collie x pug mix (DNA tested) that I rescued at 12 weeks old from a lovely rescue group in California in 2010. She has taught me so many things throughout her life, but her biggest accomplishment so far is showing me just how wrong I was with my dog training methods and philosophy. Today, I'd like to say that I am much more enlightened and knowledgeable, but as any good trainer knows - there is always room for improvement.
My goal for Bindi's Dog Blog is to tell the dog enthusiasts, pet professionals, dog owners, and members of the community about all the things that Bindi wishes I knew then and is thankful that I know now. I hope you enjoy learning from my crossover story, and I am eager to hear your thoughts on the various topics that will be provided through the life and growth of this blog. Thanks for checking this out and helping your pups become Pawsitively Trained!
|Posted on February 27, 2019 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
What is body handling and why is it important? Body handling is being able to touch the dog all over, sometimes in slightly invasive or uncomfortable ways, to do various procedures like nail trims, vet exams, blood draws, baths, wiping muddy paws, restraining for grooming, etc. In order to keep our dogs happy and healthy, it is critical to be able to handle our dogs in ways different from standard petting and affectionate contact. The number of dogs traumatized during veterinary and grooming experiences is staggering. Even well-meaning pet professionals have to deal with fear and aggression in their animal clients regularly due to, what we often refer to as, handling sensitivity.
Labels sometimes alienates people in the community, so when I refer to handling sensitivity, I am describing dogs that show stress signals when being handled in a particular way. Some dogs may only be handling sensitive if you do something specific, like opening their mouth; whereas, other dogs will shy away from or snap at any person who reaches for them. Most dogs have some level of sensitivity that could use a little training to help them become more handleable, especially by a stranger.
Dogs that are taught how to be handled, through positive reinforcement techniques, show less stress at the vet or groomer, are able to be still through procedures, can participate in the procedures without excessive force or restraint, have positive associations with the humans handling them, are more pleasant for the pet professionals and owners to work with, etc. Struggling with a handling sensitive animal makes the entire experience more stressful for everyone involved (animals and humans) and makes it much more challenging to provide the best care for that animal.
I spent years working as a Veterinary Assistant for an equine veterinary practice. If we were doing a dental procedure on a horse who stood calmly and required little restraint, we were able to do a much more thorough job, than if we were doing the same procedure on a horse that was reactive and resisting. This may have nothing to do with the quality of the veterinarian, but instead with the handling practice done with the owner prior to our visit. Veterinarians are not trainers. Owners enlist the services of a vet to address the physical health of the animal, not teach the animal how to sit still for a procedure.
Though many vets would love to be able to spend that kind of time, working with every patient, this is what training is for. Think, if you took your car to a mechanic, but locked the doors and took the keys, it would be much more challenging for the mechanic to do the same quality of work if they couldn’t access the interior of the car. The vet (or groomer/pet professional) is only able to do their job if the client first does theirs. That being said, there are plenty of veterinarians and other pet professionals, including trainers, that practice outdated handling methods. Using force, fear, punishment, intimidation, or correction teaches the animal that they have to participate in the procedure, but we are here to teach animals to want to participate.
When I work on body handling with an animal, I am continually asking three questions. I need to interpret “yes” answers from the animal in order to continue handling. If the animal answers “no” at any point, it is important to stop and reevaluate the situation before moving forward.
1. Is the animal calm?
2. Is the animal comfortable?
3. Is the animal giving consent?
We are going to address each of these points in separate blog posts. Stay tuned to learn all about proper body handling techniques!
|Posted on February 27, 2019 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
I can be a bit of a homebody. I enjoy my own space and find it exceptionally relaxing to watch the dogs play through my window or sit in my garden while the kitties play underfoot. Being in a house full of animals though, means that there is constant chaos and dirt everywhere, all the time. I am sure there are many people that would cringe at the muddy pawprints all over the floor or the inevitable dog hair that ends up in my morning coffee, but I have accepted all of that as just a part of my happy little homelife.
Lately, we have had a lot of people in and out of our house. Family and friends have come to stay with us, and we have hosted a few gatherings and parties. I feel like we have been constantly cleaning to prepare for the next guest. “Oh, ______ is coming over, you have to [vacuum/do dishes/put away laundry/etc]”. Now, obviously, house chores are just a part of life, but the difference between cleaning the house because I have to prepare for the next guest, versus, cleaning the house because I want to have a clean house, is significant.
House chores likely hold varying emotional associations for different people. Some people find house chores therapeutic and thoroughly enjoy their cleaning time. Some people find house chores to be the worst endeavor they could possibly imagine undertaking and avoid the tasks at all costs. Some people (me included) procrastinate house chores, then all the sudden their brain is not able to function until All The Things have been cleaned. Tangent: One time, I came home after being gone all day, and Zach (my other half) had deep cleaned all the bathrooms because the actual task of caulking the bathroom baseboards “couldn’t” be completed until all the tile was sparkling – Ha, I can totally relate!
Now, what in the world does this have to do with dog training? Let’s look at a task that maybe your dog is not in love with… maybe nail trims, for example. Most dogs probably don’t find this task therapeutic and probably don’t thoroughly enjoy their nail trimming time. However, nail trims need to happen, for the health of the dog.
(pic of Katia: Black Russian Terrier x Rottweiler)
Throughout most of Bindi’s life, when I presented the nail trimmers, she would start trembling. Her head would lower, her ears would go back, her eyes would look up at me with the typical “puppy dog” look that we now know is a common way for dogs to show stress, and she would slink over to me to proceed with the terrifying trimming experience. This is a “have to” response. She didn’t have the option to leave, she had to participate because I said so, and her only tools were to exhibit numerous stress signals to communicate her discomfort. It really is amazing, looking back, that she wasn’t aggressive in these moments. (This is likely because I had previously suppressed aggressive behavior, but more on that in a later post.)
One day, I realized, she shouldn’t have to tolerate getting her nails trimmed, she should want to participate in nail trims. #Epiphone
Now, when I present the nail trimmers to Bindi, she follows me around the house with her ears pricked and tail wagging. She literally pushes the other dogs out of the way to be first in line, and when I tell her she’s all done, I need to put her in a down stay or in another room, so she doesn’t jump back into trimming position while I am working on the other dogs. This is a “want to” response. If she could choose nail trims or fetch, she would probably not choose nail trims, but if nail trims are the best option at the moment, she is willing to voluntarily participate. If I could go sit in my garden or clean my kitchen, I would probably not choose to clean the kitchen, but if cleaning the kitchen will help me feel better about my homey little space at that moment, then I will voluntarily do that task. Plus, I will feel much better about it if I am not being pressured into the “have to” mindset of cleaning for impending guests.
Let’s move away from force in our training. Let’s move away from telling the learners that they “have to”. Let’s move towards teaching our learners to “want to” participate. Eager to learn how? Check out Want To vs Have To: Part 2.
|Posted on February 23, 2019 at 2:55 AM||comments (0)|
So, as I mentioned in the previous Stand Up! blog post, I learned a more effective way to teach Bindi how to go into the various positions I asked for, without correction, punishment, or physical pressure. This post will cover how to teach dogs new positions with a food lure. There are other ways to teach positions that are also positive and effective, but food lures are one of the easier options for most dogs.
First, I like to go through a step by step formula, or training plan, when teaching a new skill. Not all dogs, or handlers, are going to have the exact same results, so training plans are intended to be modified as needed, to fit the session.
Step #1: Catch the dog’s nose
I start off with a stinky treat that the dog finds appealing. I keep the treat in a closed fist and place it in front of the dog’s nose. Most likely, the dog’s nose will stick to my treat hand as the dog tries to access the stinky goodie. If you waft a treat in front of the dog’s nose and they seem uninterested, we need to reevaluate the setup: either the treats are not interesting enough for that dog, or the environment is too distracting for that dog at that moment. Finding a quiet, low distraction environment, and a high value treat will generally grab the dog’s attention.
Step #2: Lure the dog into position
Each position requires a different lure, since the motion of the treat effects the motion of the dog’s body. For a sit, I generally move the treat up and back over the dog’s head. This causes the dog to look up towards the treat and shift their weight onto their back end, causing their rear end to hit the ground. For a down, I generally move the treat in a downward motion towards the floor, following a path from the dog’s nose straight down to the ground. For a stand, I generally move the treat from the dog’s nose, straight forward, keeping the bridge of their nose parallel to the ground. This forward motion causes their weight to shift off of the back end the move the dog forward enough to get their weight balanced on all four feet.
If the dog is not offering the correct position, adjusting the placement of the lure will generally help clarify for the dog how they should shift their body. If the dog offers incorrect behavior, I often will just wait for the dog to figure out the correct option. Allowing the dog to troubleshoot and try new options, without the threat of being corrected, promotes creative thinking. This way the dog comes up with the correct answer on their own, rather than you needing to micro manage the dog’s behavior. Ideally, I want to only give minimal cues and allow the dog to process the information, rather than constantly barking orders at the dog while they are trying to learn.
I don’t use any physical pressure to guide the dog into position. Some dogs (like Bindi) find the pressure on their hips, or other body part, aversive during training. Additionally, if I use pressure to put the dog into position, then I did all the work for them and they did not actually learn how to offer the position on their own. Teach the dog how to make good choices rather than making them to obey through force.
Step #3: Mark the completed position
The moment the dog offers the position you were aiming for, mark it! I use a verbal “yes” to mark the correct behavior choices, but a clicker “click” is also a great option. Clickers are more effective due to their consistent sound and the handler’s ability to have better timing mechanically rather than verbally, but often trainers and handlers prefer the convenience of the verbal marker. To keep the verbal marker effective, make sure the sound of the “yes” is always the same. For example, “yes good dog” is not the same sound and a single “yes”.
So, why use a marker? The marker bridges the gap between the dog offering the desired behavior and being presented with a reward. Often, the moment you reach into your pocket to pull out a yummy treat, the dog has switched gears from the desired behavior into a begging behavior for the goodie. The “yes” lets the dog know that they made the correct choice and they will quickly be paid for it.
Step #4: Treat the dog while still in position
I encourage feeding the dog while the dog is still performing the desired behavior. For example, if the dog is lured into a sit, then the dog stands up to reach for the treat from the handler, the dog is learning that both the sit and the stand needed to occur to get the reinforcement. Instead, lure into the sit position then feed the dog while the dog is still seated. I recommend feeding dogs slightly lower than their nose to encourage polite treat taking, as well as, encourage them to maintain their current position.
Practice these steps until the dog is successful three times in a row. Keep in mind that training sessions should be short to maintain a high success rate. Try to only spend 5 minutes on one thing before moving on to something else or giving the dog a break. For young puppies, 2 minutes is all you need before giving them the opportunity to go romp or chew on something.
Now add Step #5: Pair a verbal cue with the food lure
Once the dog has gotten the hang of it, give the behavior a name. We tend to use formal obedience cues like “sit” “stay” “heel” etc., but the word choice is irrelevant since your dog doesn’t speak English. (What?!) You could pair the sit behavior with “strawberries” if you wanted to, the key is saying the word while the dog is doing the action, or immediately before the dog does the action. Don’t say the word after the dog has already performed the behavior (like “good sit” after the dog sat down). Typically, I catch the dog’s nose, then lure and give the verbal at the same time during the pairing process.
Practice this step for three successful repetitions before moving on.
Now add Step #6: Remove Steps #1 and #2 and replace with a gesture
Ok, now it’s time to switch things up. At this point, the dog is able to perform the position while you are guiding their nose with a stinky treat and saying the verbal cue associated with that position. Next, I want to remove the food from the cue. I keep my treats in a treat pouch while I am training, but you can also keep the treat in a hand behind your back. Instead of catching the dog’s nose with the food hand, I remove the food from that hand, but I pretend like I am still holding it. I don’t want the dog to know there is no longer food in that hand. I move the gesture hand the same way I did when that hand previously held food. I use the verbal cue and the marker word at the same time as I was previously. Once the behavior is marked, I grab the treat from the other hand and feed the dog. I want the dog to realize that they don’t need to see the food to get the food. The food becomes a reward instead of a lure.
As the dog gets better, I begin to adjust my gesture to whatever I want it to look like in its final state. For example, instead of a down gesture that goes from the dog’s face all the way to the floor, I may work on from the dog’s face to 2” above the floor. Then I would go from the dog’s face to 4” above the floor, and so on. Through baby steps and repetition, my final gesture might be a finger point to the ground instead of the large, dramatic gesture that I started with.
Step #7: Bonus point duration
Typically, when we cue a position, we want to the dog to maintain the position for a period of time. I don’t typically ask the dog to sit for one second then stand back up. This step teaches the dog how to continue to offer the position while building up their patience, impulse control, and ability to be still. To start, I want to have an idea of how long the dog can successfully sit still. For really fidgety dogs, the duration may be ½ seconds, for dogs that are less squirmy, the duration may be 15 seconds, it depends on the dog.
I cue the dog to go into a position, mark, then treat. THEN I give an extra treat, then pause for a short duration, then give an extra treat, then pause, then treat, then pause, then treat. I may do this for three treats worth or for 20 treats worth, but I like to mix it up, so the dog doesn’t predict the pattern. The moment I am done, I give a “release cue” like “all done” and toss a treat for the dog to chase. After the dog is released, there is no more opportunity for food until the position is cued again.
This teaches the dog that maintaining a position pays heavily and consistently but breaking the position is boring. If the dog releases themselves before that release and treat toss at the end, try shortening the duration. Usually the dogs get up when they get bored or frustrated, make it really easy for the dog to be successful by keeping the rate of reinforcement high while the dog is maintaining the position.
Step #8: Practice in new environments
Time to take this behavior on the road! I always recommend starting a behavior in a relatively low distraction environment, but quickly I want to practice in new locations. Dogs can struggle with generalizing behavior to different environments and contexts, so it is important to practice in as many places as possible. Always go at a pace that is comfortable for the dog. The difference between practicing a down at home and a down at the dog park is significant. Start at home, then practice in different rooms of the house, then practice in the backyard, then practice in the front yard, then practice in front of the neighbor’s house, then practice at the park away from distractions, then practice at the park near other people, then practice at the dog park. Gradually work up to the more challenging environments as your dog is ready for them.
Have fun practicing and remember to keep training pawsitive!
Any questions about how to teach a new position? Let me know, comment below!
|Posted on February 23, 2019 at 1:30 AM||comments (0)|
My passion for working with dogs began while raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. As a puppy raiser, I was required to go to weekly classes with the group leader and other raisers to learn all about training and raising these puppies. At the time, Guide Dogs used “traditional” training methods and I was taught how to use choke chains and collar corrections to train dogs to behave appropriately. In one of our weekly sessions, we clipped the leashes to a chain link fence and practiced “popping” the leash to master our skills at applying a proper correction.
Fast forward to the start of my professional dog training career, working at Petco. There I learned that, in fact, food was also an important tool to use in training, so we could reward the dog for being obedient. In this “balanced” training program, we practiced “gentle guiding” techniques of adding pressure on the dog’s hips to force the dog to sit, then feeding the dog a treat once they were seated. I was hesitant to add food into my training program, since I had never needed it before, but it was required, so I played along.
I soon realized that the food really accelerated the training program: the dogs were picking up skills more quickly, the corrections were needed less often, the dogs were more focused on the handlers, the handlers needed to shop for treats, so there were more product sales during classes, everyone was happy. I was still resistant to being the “treat lady” and didn’t want to be thought of as a “cookie pusher” so I still refused to invest in a treat pouch, but I was seeing the benefits of using a balanced approach vs the traditional approach I was used to. Then it was time to start training Bindi.
Bindi already had sit and down figured out at this point (she was a border collie mix, after all), but “stand” was a brand new skill for her. I didn’t really understand the necessity of such a command, but it was part of the group class curriculum, so I needed to practice it with a demo dog. I held a treat in one hand, put my other hand under her belly while she was sitting, lifted up on her belly, and prepared to feed her the treat when she stood up. However, she did just the opposite. She melted into a tail tucked, belly up, down.
I tried this technique twice more before Bindi began to shy away from my touch and avoid the food in my hand. Even dropping the enticing treats on the ground would not motivate her to eat and she sat at the end of the leash, trembling. What went wrong? I followed the directions in the syllabus, I had practiced this technique with other dogs without any problems, I didn’t do anything painful or scary (I thought), I was offering her high value treats for a behavior that should have taken minimal effort. Why was my dog not figuring this out?
Luckily, the Petco training program was in the process of being updated. The new program removed gentle guiding and collar corrections from the syllabus. Now, we were supposed to teach the dogs how to go into positions with lures, encouragement, and a marker word, and they were supposed to somehow figure out what we wanted. I was skeptical. However, little did I know, this change in curriculum was going to save my relationship with my dog and change my entire career. I tried this force free approach one time with Bindi and she stood right up without any hesitation.
I had previously been so frustrated with my dog for not understanding this simple concept of standing up. She stands up all the time, why was this so confusing for her? Throughout the process of trying to train through pressure and correction, I lost my dog’s trust. She felt unsafe during training. She was confused and had no control when we were working together. When she became anxious after corrections, she was unable to understand the skills I was trying to teach, and she was often unsuccessful. These little failures led to a less confident dog and a more upset human. Once we switched to a positive training method, not only did Bindi learn how to stand up easily, but I learned how to communicate with her more effectively.
My years of hesitation and growing pains in my dog training career, as I switched from one philosophy to the next, was all completely worth it. The resistance to change and learn the new methods created tension in my relationship with my personal dog, but also with my identity as a trainer. I struggled to figure out what I believed and how to identify with my techniques and methods, but once I saw the instant change from my scared, trembling dog to an excited learner, I never looked back. Teaching Bindi to stand up was a pivotal point in my dog training career, and I can’t appreciate her enough for being the dog that pushed me to be a better trainer.
|Posted on February 22, 2019 at 9:15 PM||comments (0)|
It was February of 2010, just a few days before my birthday, and I was checking in with the dog rescue group while they were setting up their kennels for an adoption event at Petco, my workplace at the time. The rescue owner smiles at me and says “Kelsey, I have your next puppy”. Now, I have seen her bring nearly 100 dogs into the store during the numerous adoption events they had held over the years, and she had never mentioned anything like this to me before, so I was intrigued. She pulled out a picture of 3 adorable, brindle (my favorite), 8 week old, female puppies, and proceeded to tell me that they were a mix of my favorite dog breeds at the time, pit x lab x border collie (later DNA tested as pug x border collie, Ha!).
At this time, I was all of 20 years old. I was in school, working during every spare moment as the Petco dog trainer, trying to make time for my horse that I insisted on boarding and financially supporting while struggling through the starving college student phase of my life, and I had no time or money for a new puppy. I held firm to my decision that it was not the right time for a dog and politely said no to that sweet puppy face. Two weeks later, I called to see if the puppies were still available…
…It was a sunny, beautiful drive to go pick out my new puppy. The rescue was on a ranch with ponies, puppies, piglets, and more. The three little girls that were dropped off in a box on the rescuer’s doorstep were out frolicking in a big outdoor play yard with plenty of novel smells, sights, and sounds, and they eagerly ran up to greet me the moment I walked in. I sat for about an hour, deciding which pup was best for me. One was jumping in my lap, play mouthing my fingers and romping with the other pups – too much energy, I thought. One was friendly and equally interested in her playful sister and the new person in her pen – nothing special, I thought. One was sniffing around the pen, checking me out, dodging her sister’s play, then going back to sniffing, then she fell asleep in my lap – that’s the one!
I thought, wow this puppy isn’t too energetic, thinks that the human is more interesting than the other dogs, so she’ll be a great companion, likes to explore the environment, and loves to snuggle! In reality, I picked the puppy that was overwhelmed with high energy play, was displacement sniffing to self soothe her stress, and was so exhausted from the stimuli in her environment that she passed out in the middle of a play session. Well, hindsight is 20/20.
Bringing home Bindi was so exciting. I had butterflies in my stomach the entire day and through the first night, to the point where I couldn’t even fall asleep. I had never had my own dog before. Previously, I had raised puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, but this one was mine! She was very cute, very needy, very shy, and very chompy – as many puppies can be. I assumed her “shy” behavior was just from being a new puppy in a new place but figured she would grow out of it quickly with more exposure to the world, once she was older and vaccinated.
Here’s another hindsight moment! I was told, as are many other owners and trainers, that it was crucial, for the safety of the puppy, that socializing needed to wait until she was fully vaccinated. The vet said not to take her off property until she had her last set of puppy shots at 16 weeks, otherwise, she could contract a deadly virus! Obviously, I am a good dog owner and would never put my puppy in a deadly situation, so I kept her home. Unfortunately, I did not know how important that Critical Socialization Period is for puppies, and I did not know that I could safely socialize her without putting her at a high disease risk.
Finally, my baby puppy was old enough for her last set of puppy shots. I took her to the Petco where I worked for the Vaccination Clinic that came in monthly to administer low cost vaccines (starving college student, remember). I waited in line with her, surrounded by dogs and their owners, then lifted her up onto the table for the vet to do a brief exam and administer shots. She was trembling, so I held her tightly to keep her from bailing out of there. The vet held her down on the table and administered the vaccine and she pooped, right on the table. I couldn’t believe she did that! She was potty trained, she had gone potty before we went to the store, she had been to the vet before, why would she do that on the table – how embarrassing.
Ok, time for a shake off! Just typing out that experience with baby Bindi gives me anxiety. I feel so bad for subjecting her to such an overwhelming experience, especially since she had minimal socializing before that point, especially since she was a “shy” puppy to begin with, especially since vaccinations are already scary for most dogs, especially because there were so many things I could have easily done differently, especially since this experience factored in to a lifetime of handling sensitivity for Bindi.
The first few weeks with Bindi were full of well-intended, uneducated decisions, but I feel like many dog owners are in the same boat. You don’t know what you don’t know. I had mentors and professionals telling me things that they thought to be true and it took many months for me to figure out that their methods and advice was not the best option for my dog (or for any dog). She wasn’t able to be successful in a crowd, she wasn’t able to be successful when dogs invaded her space, she wasn’t able to be successful when strangers handled her, she wasn’t able to be successful when I had to do invasive procedures, and no amount of correction was going to fix that – so I learned.